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Hot water heater problem - need advice
Old 05-12-2018, 10:19 AM   #1
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Hot water heater problem - need advice

I have a 40-gallon gas hot water heater in the (unfinished) basement, that has operated flawlessly for 16 years, until yesterday. When I went down to the basement yesterday, a little while after taking my morning shower, I noticed that the floor under and next to the hot water heater was wet. I'd say maybe 16 oz. or so of water had leaked onto the floor, so not a massive leak. Upon inspection, I could see that there was no new water leaking - just what had come out earlier. I inspected the bottom of the tank as best I could, expecting to find some corrosion and possibly the source of the leak, but it actually looked good - pretty much solid metal, no corrosion or leak apparent down there. Then I looked at the pressure relief valve, and the flap was sticking out at about a 45-degree angle. Also, most of the water on the floor was in the vicinity of the tube that drains water when the pressure relief valve blows. So now I am thinking that the leak was most likely due to the pressure relief valve blowing, as it should when the temp. gets too hot, or the pressure gets too high. We have not changed the temp. of the hot water for years......always been set on 120.

Today, all the water has dried up that had leaked yesterday, and there is definitely no new water coming out (the tank is still full of water, but I shut it off and have not used it since the leak). So..........what would you do? I guess after 16 years, I should probably be thinking about just getting a new heater, but something tells me that the problem is just with the relief valve, and maybe all that needs to be done is to replace it, to get a few more years out of this unit(?). I hate to replace the whole unit if a $20 fix would work for now. Would you attempt to replace the relief valve yourself, or is that something best left to a plumber? If it is the latter, that might push the decision toward just getting a whole new unit installed, I suppose.

Any advice would be appreciated.......thanks.
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Old 05-12-2018, 10:33 AM   #2
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I guess after 16 years, I should probably be thinking about just getting a new heater...
^ This. After 16 years you've definitely gotten your money's worth out of that water heater. Replace it and spend time doing what you enjoy instead of worrying about a wet basement and cold showers.
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Old 05-12-2018, 10:42 AM   #3
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What REWahoo said. Average life span of a hot water heater is about 7 or 8 years. Get a new one and have one less thing to worry about...
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Old 05-12-2018, 10:57 AM   #4
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My experience is that the life of a water heater (don't wanna be chastised for calling it a HWH) varies widely depending on water quality. I've never had one wear out in 7 or 8 years, more like 12 or more. I would probably replace the TP relief valve unless I wanted to upgrade to a more efficient tank. Does the current unit use a pilot or electronic ignition? Also consider a way to direct the discharge to a drain or container so you can limit secondary damage and verify source of the water.
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Old 05-12-2018, 11:30 AM   #5
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Some people get a warning and they heed it. Others do not. You received fair warning. Something is wrong with a 16 year old appliance that does not typically last beyond ten years. You probably have some time to shop now or do it yourself to get your best price. In a short, but unknown time, you will be in emergency mode. I would get right on it and get a new one. I would move even quicker if you do not have a drain nearby.
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Old 05-12-2018, 11:53 AM   #6
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Our electric water heater is going on 14 years now. I keep expecting it to fail, just based on the age, but so far no problems. I even drained the tank a couple months ago just to see how bad it was and the water came out clean, no rust or sediment. Kind of surprised me.

Unfortunately, our 80 gallon tank is going to be hard to replace. It fits in a small alcove in our laundry room, and thanks to new energy requirements the new 80 gallon tanks are larger and won't fit in the space. So we'll probably have to downsize to a 50 gallon just so it will fit and hope it can put out enough hot water to fill our large bathtub. I would switch to a heat pump water heater, but again because of where it's located it would not work very well.

So, I keep doing my research so I know what to get when our tank finally fails.

I'm also waiting for our submersible well pump to fail, it's almost 30 years old now. That's gonna be the bigger job to replace when the time comes.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:05 PM   #7
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You are fortunate. You can replace it on your time.

Now is the time to shop around for the right tank at the right install price.

Don't wait until your basement floods. My understanding is that most tanks have a life of 7-10 years.

Take advantage of your good fortune and replace it now.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:05 PM   #8
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I would probably replace the TP relief valve unless I wanted to upgrade to a more efficient tank. Does the current unit use a pilot or electronic ignition? Also consider a way to direct the discharge to a drain or container so you can limit secondary damage and verify source of the water.
It has electronic ignition. And the water does run right to the basement drain, so unless there is a major blowout or something, there shouldn't be any water damage to the basement if it does leak again.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:09 PM   #9
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If it was me, I'd replace the pressure relief valve. For less than $20 and 10 minutes of my time, that's the way I would go. Many of the newer water heaters are manufactured with corporate cost cutting initiatives built in and won't be near the quality of the older units. This is a case were averages of life expectancy mean little, and the quality of the water and the quality of the water heater mean much more.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:24 PM   #10
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Lotta truth being spoken here. Replaced our gas WH last year. Was way too spendy compared to 10 years ago and I've no faith it will last as well as the unit we installed back in 1999. Replacing the T&P valve isn't THAT expensive if you are doing it yourself, but I think you would be throwing time and money in new parts at a failing item. Also, no guarantee that T&P valve is the issue as you haven't tested it since the leak - you shut it off after spotting the leak, right? Was the water for your shower uncommonly hot? Maybe turn the WH back on and see if it blows off again.
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:26 PM   #11
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Some people get a warning and they heed it. Others do not. You received fair warning. Something is wrong with a 16 year old appliance that does not typically last beyond ten years. You probably have some time to shop now or do it yourself to get your best price. In a short, but unknown time, you will be in emergency mode. I would get right on it and get a new one. I would move even quicker if you do not have a drain nearby.

+1.

You are already on borrowed (appliance) time. Git'R'Done!
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Old 05-12-2018, 12:33 PM   #12
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FYI: That leak could be caused by a faulty expansion tank. You can check the pressure on the tank. If water comes comes out when you test it, then replace it.
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Old 05-12-2018, 01:53 PM   #13
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FYI: That leak could be caused by a faulty expansion tank. You can check the pressure on the tank. If water comes comes out when you test it, then replace it.
heh..heh I was just going to suggest this. Our water heater did same as OP. Small puddle off & on. Had a plumber out to look at it. The bladder in the expansion tank had partially torn. He replaced and we are GTG. Our WH is 14 years old.
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Old 05-12-2018, 02:24 PM   #14
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Lotta truth being spoken here. Replaced our gas WH last year. Was way too spendy compared to 10 years ago and I've no faith it will last as well as the unit we installed back in 1999. Replacing the T&P valve isn't THAT expensive if you are doing it yourself, but I think you would be throwing time and money in new parts at a failing item. Also, no guarantee that T&P valve is the issue as you haven't tested it since the leak - you shut it off after spotting the leak, right? Was the water for your shower uncommonly hot? Maybe turn the WH back on and see if it blows off again.
Yes, I shut off the heater (but did not drain it) after the leak, so I have not tested the TP valve yet. No, the water for my shower was the same temp. as always. I might turn it back on again today and see if it blows again, as you suggest. Or I might have a plumber come over and see what he thinks the best course of action is, rather than try anything on my own. Still trying to decide.
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Old 05-12-2018, 02:49 PM   #15
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Often hot.water.heaters will burp out of he pressure relief.valve. My tank has a small expansion tank on top that is supposed.to minimize the burps.

To either replace the tank or just change the vslve, you cannot go wrong.

Chances are the tank will continue to serve you well--at least until July 4th when you have a nouse.full of people. That is when mine failed.
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Old 05-12-2018, 03:25 PM   #16
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You more than got your nickel's worth out of a 16-year-old water heater so if it was me I'd go shopping for a new one now while I had the luxury of time. Water conditions vary by region of course but around here one is doing very well to get ten years out of a water heater.

Where we used to live they lasted longer but 16 years was definitely pushing the envelope.

And even if it is just the relief valve you still have a 16-year-old water heater, just patiently waiting for a full house on Thanksgiving or Christmas day, or similar, to let go.
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Old 05-12-2018, 05:32 PM   #17
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FYI: That leak could be caused by a faulty expansion tank. You can check the pressure on the tank. If water comes comes out when you test it, then replace it.
I forgot about the expansion tank. I'm not familiar with these but the plumber had to add one to meet the current code when we had our heater replaced 6 yrs ago. The prior tank was 12 yrs old and we only replaced it due to desire to switch from electric to gas.
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Old 05-12-2018, 05:38 PM   #18
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Our electric water heater is going on 14 years now. I keep expecting it to fail, just based on the age, but so far no problems. I even drained the tank a couple months ago just to see how bad it was and the water came out clean, no rust or sediment. Kind of surprised me.

Unfortunately, our 80 gallon tank is going to be hard to replace. It fits in a small alcove in our laundry room, and thanks to new energy requirements the new 80 gallon tanks are larger and won't fit in the space. So we'll probably have to downsize to a 50 gallon just so it will fit and hope it can put out enough hot water to fill our large bathtub. I would switch to a heat pump water heater, but again because of where it's located it would not work very well.

So, I keep doing my research so I know what to get when our tank finally fails.
We had this problem also. You may want to look into having a mixing valve or tempering valve installed to compensate for the smaller tank. (Good luck finding a residential plumber that knows what these are.)

https://www.grainger.com/product/26X...0180512223336:

I had the same experience you did the one and only time I ever drained our 80 gal tank. No sediment.
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Old 05-12-2018, 06:01 PM   #19
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A water alarm costs about $15 and can save thousands. You could put a cup under your T&P outlet and put the alarm sender in it so you'd know when it leaks again. And later you can put it under your washer, another one under your AC evaporator pan, another in the pan under your new WH, etc. In a way, it's crazy that we deliberately bring pressurized water into our homes.

I'd vote for replacing the WH unless all your neighbors routinely get 20 years or more from theirs.

I also installed a powered anode rod in the WH I installed in my daughter's house. I have high hopes that it may help it to last for a LONG time. Water heaters generally rust out when the anode rod(s) are used up. A 5 year water heater is generally identical to a 15 year water heater except for the size of the anode rod(s) and maybe a nicer drain valve. The powered anode will last for decades (as long as it stays plugged in) .
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Old 05-12-2018, 08:06 PM   #20
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Agree on most of the points above, however, with some older installations, a 175 psi pressure relief valve was common. Today, codes require 150 psi, hence the use of the expansion tank.

I would replace the tank if I were you. If a 175 psi T & P valve was used, I'd definitely replace it sooner than later. If you replace a 175 with a 150, and not change the tank, I can almost guarantee it will leak. And when you go to purchase your new tank, be sure to bring a bundle of cash, as the regulations for WH became a lot stricter about 4 years ago, and thus costs went up. And your cost went up a lot higher.
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